Luke 23 – The Table of Two Crossbeams

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 45

Judged by two enemies – Pilate the Roman governor and Herod the king-in-title-only of the Jews – Jesus was sentenced to die on by crucifixion. Luke’s gospel tells us that the enemies became friends that day. After carrying that cross outside the city, Jesus was nailed to it: an upright post of wood bisecting a horizontal beam, fastened together at His heart.

At His right and left were two criminals on their crosses, and while one joined in the crowd’s jeers in asking His deliverance from the cross, the other confessed His belief in Jesus and asked deliverance into His kingdom. A Roman centurion saw Jesus surrender His Spirit and came to terms with what he had to conclude about the Man on that cross. Joseph of Arimathea begged the lifeless body to place in his own tomb, followed there by the women who had stood at a distance while Jesus died.

All of these diverse people were brought together in a unique fellowship at the table formed by the two crossbeams. There they made a choice about their relationship with with God and with others. There the Lamb was sacrificed. There atonement was made. And there, the Man-who-was-also-God brought God and man together as no one else before or since could ever do.

A Prayer Over the Bread

We gather at this table in the shadow of the cross, our God and Father, and give You glory for the great gift of being reconciled to You through the forgiveness of our sins. The body of Jesus, hanging between heaven and earth to reunite them, we recognize in this loaf. We see His head dipped to gaze upon guilt, and raised to view Your righteousness. We see His arms outstretched to embrace us even in our sin, and to bear its weight, and to implore Your grace. Bless this bread which brings us together, we pray: Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Our God … our God. Why have You not forsaken us? We are the ones who have sinned, and it is our bones which should be counted; our knees melted under the strain to take each successive breath. But it is the blood of Your Son and not ours which is given that we may be forgiven; and it is His blood that we see in this cup. Bless this cup, we pray, to remind us of Him for as long as we breathe: Amen.

Luke 22:14-38 – The Passover Meal

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 44

There is an unusual quote from Jesus that Luke alone shares in introducing his retelling of the Last Supper story: “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” When something is said to be fulfilled in scripture, that means that it was regarded as prophetic. Jesus saw the Passover as prophetic of His sacrifice as the Lamb of God, to save the obedient from death.

His emphasis on the fulfillment of the Passover in this meal prompts Luke to include another detail not shared by the other gospel writers: Jesus took the cup twice: first to repeat that He would not drink of it again until God’s kingdom had come; after the meal, to declare it to be – not the old covenant – but the new covenant in His own blood. Jesus predicted His betrayal, pronounced a woe on the betrayer, and urged the remaining disciples to lead humbly. And when He singled out Peter as the object of His prayer, Luke shares yet another unique detail: The conversation led to Jesus urging them to buy things to carry money and clothing – and a sword. Perhaps one of the two swords present belonged to Peter. But the warning should have been clear: that like the Israelites after the Passover meal in Egypt, the disciples should be prepared to leave in haste.

A Prayer Over the Bread

God of deliverance from the pursuit of evil and the angel of death … we give You honor and glory and thanks. For Your Son, the Lamb of God, looked forward eagerly to supplying deliverance from His very body. We remember His willingness in this bread, not eaten in so much haste that its meaning escapes us. We too look forward to the wedding supper of the Lamb, and celebrate that anticipation as He shares this foretaste with us in this humble, earthly outpost of Your kingdom. We do so in His memory, His name, His purpose: Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Holy One of Israel, of all peoples and all time … we honor Your wisdom with all that is within us. Through the giving of Your Son’s blood, You have sought to reconcile all of Your children to Yourself. We seek to escape evil and death, and it is the only Way we have. Bless this moment we remember it and remember Him in the sharing of this cup we pray: Amen.

John 13:18-30 – Hoc Est Corpus

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 43

John’s gospel takes whole chapters to describe what took place at Jesus’ last supper, from the washing of feet to entire conversations about the Holy Spirit and what else is to come for His disciples. One of the details John shares is a unique description of a single moment that takes place at the paschal meal, possibly at the end when the hidden matzoh is brought out to close the meal, and when Jesus hands it to someone close to Him, John says: “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him.” (John 13:27)

At that point of betrayal, John reveals that there’s no magic in the matzoh. There’s no wizardry in the wine. There’s no “hocus pocus” in the Latin phrase hoc est corpus – “This is the body.” There’s no intrinsic protection from the Evil One in the emblems of this meal. Like Judas, who took the bread and went out the door a couple of verses later, we can take this bread and walk out the doors of our church and betray our Lord any number of ways. Or …

We can choose to be changed. We can become what we eat, just as the old saying goes: “You are what you eat.” As believers, we are Whom we consume. We can become the Body of Christ. We can be living witnesses outside the walls to His brutal crucifixion, His entombment until the third day, His glorious resurrection that guarantees our own – just as we are when we share this meal; when we dine on the divine.

A Prayer Over the Bread

To You, our God, be praise and glory forever – for You have given as no one else can give: Life to the lifeless through the lifeless body of Your Son, Jesus, restored to life on the third day after death. We accept that life as we accept this bread, its symbol. May His life give us life anew; life with purpose and courage to be like Him in every way You enable us. We beg this blessing in His name: Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Change us, o God, through the blood of Christ: given on the cross from His head, hands, and feet so that our heads might always bow in reverence, our hands might always be eager to serve, and our feet may always be swift to carry His gospel. Bless this cup, the symbol of His blood, as its contents enter us and become our blood, and our hearts make it flow in worship to You and witness to others that it is His blood flowing in us. We crave this favor in Jesus’ name: Amen.

Matthew 26:17-30 – The Lord’s Supper

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 42

Each of the gospel writers tells the Story of this meal a little differently. Matthew chooses to include this detail not told by the other three: That when Jesus instructs the disciples to go into the city and make preparations for the Passover with a certain many, they are to tell that man “The Teacher says, ‘My appointed time is near.’” There’s no record that they asked Him what He meant by it, nor that the man to whom they quoted it asked. Perhaps to them it was clear.

He had been telling them since He set His face resolutely toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), and especially all the week He taught at the temple since entering town as a king, that it was time for Him to be crucified. He had answered any protest of it with rebuke. This was His time: time to do what He had been set apart and had come to do; time to finish what He had begun. And after the meal celebrating the Passover of the firstborn sons, the consecrated Son of Israel would be taken by death – becoming the sacrificial Lamb of God.

A Prayer Over the Bread

Glorious God and Father of our Lord, we remember in this simple meal the sacrifice of Your Son, too powerful for any other sacrifice to succeed it. We remember His body given to rescue all of us – not just our firstborn sons – from certain and final death. We seek to comprehend that He was slain from the foundation of this world – perhaps from the moment of mankind’s first sin – and that this sacrifice was His time and His purpose. And we know that in this time, He has given us His purpose to live out for the remainder of our lives, strengthened by this bread, members of His body, always given and giving. May Your blessing rest upon this bread, and through it, upon us. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

God of inscrutable wisdom, we are not a people for whom sacrifice and blood as a sign of penitence for sin or of gratitude for blessing or of recognizing Your holiness has been a lifelong experience. We have not seen the ceremonies of slaughter, nor eaten the feasts of celebration. Still, the ideas that sin leads to death and that deliverance comes from God have come to us through the Story of Israel and Your prophets’ words and – most powerfully – through the blood of Your Son. This cup of blessing reinforces and expresses these powerful truths of penitence and gratitude and holiness. May your blessing rest upon this cup, and through it, upon us. Amen.

John 13 – Washing Feet

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 41

It has been a week or less since Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha, washed the feet of Jesus. As the twelve reclined at the Passover table, ready to be served, Jesus demonstrated this same gesture of humility and servitude to them. He washed their feet. Peter objected, and was told that unless he is washed, he has no part in his Lord. Jesus explained that this example was for them to follow; that greatness in His kingdom was to be measured in humble service.

After dismissing Judas to do what the betrayer had committed to do, Jesus tried again to remind them that He would soon be gone, and despite Peter’s good intention to try to follow, he would not be able to. In fact, before the day was out, he would three times turn his back on His Lord.

A Prayer Over the Bread

Glorious Father of the suffering Servant, we see in His example the humility you intend for us to display in our lives. We perceive our deep need to be washed, not only our feet but our whole selves, without and within. We have bold intentions and proclaim deep commitments, but too often turn our backs on the One to whom we have committed our lives. Forgive us our denials, we pray, in our proclamation of His body in this bread. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Our holy and righteous God, be glorified we pray in the washing of our inner being by the contents of this cup, Your Son’s blood. Grant us the grace to wash each other’s feet when our feet become dirty and stumble together. Help us to always remember the Master who knelt as a servant kneels, the Lord who washed as a slave washes, the Jesus who gave Himself fully that we might give His example to all. Amen.

John 12 – An Anointing, A Resurrection

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 40 (Alternate)

In an incident that so closely echoes the one described in Matthew 26, Mark 14 and Luke 7 that it has long been debated whether they are one and the same, John names the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet at Bethany with expensive perfume. In this record, she was Mary, one of two sisters of Lazarus who had been recently raised from death to life by Jesus. As the fragrant perfume filled the house, Judas Iscariot – who would later sell Him out – objected aloud to the waste of money, which could have been used to bless the poor. With Lazarus right there at the table with them, Jesus countered the objection by saying that she was anointing Him for burial; that they would always have poor people to bless, but they would not always have Him.

It must have been incomprehensible to them that this One who had power over death for others would yield that power when it came to Himself. But the plot to take His life was already in play; had begun in earnest when Lazarus was raised. At this table, Judas the purse-pilferer (John 12:6) shared his frustration with the way the ministry’s finances were viewed – and may have experienced the first motivations to become a part of that plot just six days before the Passover would be celebrated in Jerusalem.

A Prayer Over the Bread

A Giver of great extravagance are You, our God … and no gift excels that of your Son. Were His feet among us at this Table, they would deserve the richest of our gifts of gratitude. But we see that not only His feet, but His body is present in this bread and in those of us who share it. Help us also to see in it the purpose of His ministry: to sacrifice self for others, so that all who are poor may be richly blessed through what He gave. Give us feet that carry this fragrant gospel. Help us always to anoint Him not only as buried, but as immortal King. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

This cup, righteous God, contains the priceless blood of Your Son, which purchases life for the lifeless. As we share in its power, bless us with a yearning for that life of selfless giving. Help us to see that we are the ones in spiritual poverty, enriched in a way we cannot earn. Help us to see the incomparable value of the eternal over the temporal. Help us to see Jesus, we pray in His name: Amen.

Luke 19:1-26 – Setting Things Right

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 40

Zacchaeus was a tax collector, but not just a tax collector; he was a chief tax collector. Since that meant to most citizens of Roman-occupied Israel that he was a collaborator who probably collected too much (and was, as Luke tells us, wealthy), that meant he was a chief thief – a sinner. He had heard of Jesus, but wanted to see this great teacher. His stature may have been short, but he was long on ingenuity, and so he ran ahead and climbed a tree. Passing by – or perhaps under – Jesus saw him there and invited Himself over to stay. Zacchaeus welcomed Him. The crowd was taken aback at this, and began to mutter about Jesus and this sinner.

Though Luke mentions no meal – and he is the only gospel writer to record the incident – no act of hospitality in those days would have been complete without the host offering a meal. Whether at the table or elsewhere, Zacchaeus stood to his full height to set right what had been muttered about himself. He committed to give half his goods to the poor. And, in addition, he promised to restore fourfold anything he had cheated anyone out of having. Jesus confirmed that Zacchaeus’ character testified that he was a descendant of the quintessential patriarchal host, Abraham – not a Roman collaborator … and that salvation had come to his house. Perhaps to the crowd gathered around and clustered to the windows, Jesus also explained that He had come to seek and save the lost. He had come to set everything right.

A Prayer Over the Bread

God of all of us – from Abraham to Zacchaeus – thank you for setting right all that has ever gone wrong through your Son, Jesus. As we surround this table of penitence, we have no claim of spotless character; no magnanimous promises to make that prove our innocence. We have only our gratitude for this broken body, this bread of heaven, given for us – for all of us who sin. Bless us through it we pray in the name of Jesus: Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

In this cup, righteous and holy Father, we see the blood of your Son poured out for us … the blood of the One who came to seek and save the lost. And so we were: hopelessly lost, unaware that we were sought, all but unconscious of our guilt. We have no need to climb a tree to see Him, for He spread His own arms upon a tree and was lifted up for all to see. May this cup make us powerfully aware of the price You paid – because we were powerless to restore fourfold or twofold or onefold what we owed. We ask your blessing of salvation on your house through this blood, in the name of our Host: Amen.